SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.
Steven Price Brown, or PB, called me a ‘fucking cunt, Sir’ when we first met. He was feeling aggrieved as I’d just fallen on him from a great height. I can’t say I blame him. He’s now sailing around Britain in a leaky boat with a dodgy engine and you can follow his progress and that of his shipmates on his blog: Turn to Starboard. Here’s how I described that first encounter:
“As soon as Ron and his team arrived I briefed him on the plan and set off back down the bund line towards the river with Ninety, PB and Double A in hot pursuit. I hadn’t had a chance to brief them yet, but they all knew that wherever I was going they were going too. I could hear Delta blazing away behind us while Ron bellowed at them to conserve ammunition and slow their rate of fire.
The berm afforded limited cover which meant we could only run bent double but, despite this, we made quick progress until the bund petered out about ten metres short of the river bank. We would need to break cover and dash these last few metres. Stopping just short of the open ground, I quickly explained to the lads my plan and their individual roles. I could see that Ninety was made up to be joining me for the final assault. Then I explained we should individually make the dash across to the cover of the river bank. PB set off first. As soon as he disappeared Double A followed, then Ninety and I in rapid succession.
The river bank was about six feet above the level of the water and, in my haste to reach cover, I simply launched myself over the edge into thin air. The lads had all done pretty much the same thing and I landed on top of a heap of bodies in the river. Being the first one to cross the open ground, PB was now at the bottom of this pile and from the look on his face he wasn’t particularly enjoying the experience. At 43, PB was probably one of the oldest, if not the oldest, private soldier in the British Army. His paper round as a child must have been a hard one and he wore every single one of those 43 years in the lines on his face. Beneath this craggy exterior was a man of steel; PB was easily fitter than most lads half his age and was basically unbreakable. Providing a soft landing for three fully laden soldiers might not have been at the top of his ‘to do’ list that morning but it still wasn’t a big drama for him.
Given that I’d fallen on him from a great height, I was prepared to overlook the fact that he’d just called me ‘a fucking cunt, Sir’. As far as I was concerned, PB was gleaming.”